50s to 90s Photography

Cumberland Yacht Club – Kuwait

I posted these pictures up on Twitter last year and forgot to share them here. These two photos are of the Cumberland Yacht Club (CYC) taken back in the 1960s. The club was located in Mina Al Ahmadi and I first heard about it through John Beresford’s post on my blog. Since then I’ve been trying to find information on the club so I can put together a post similar to the one I did of the Ahmadi Desert Motoring Club but progress has been slow.

For now, I just wanted to share these two photos until I put together a more concise post on the CYC. It’s pretty sad how we don’t have anything visually as beautiful today.

50s to 90s

Water and Old Kuwait

The story below was sent to me by John Beresford who has been contributing to the blog with old interesting stories about life in Kuwait during the 1940s to the 1960s when he and his family used to live in Kuwait. To check out some of his previous stories click here.

In 1968 Ramzi Kayello, an artist, put on an exhibition of his paintings in the Hubara Club in Ahmadi. My parents went and later asked him to paint them a picture of ‘Old Kuwait’.

The image is pretty standard; mud houses, wooden doors with nails in, dusty streets, and the frame is very 1960s.

The interesting thing is the man in the white dishdasha. He is carrying water buckets. With no piped system water had to be bought and transported back to the home and the traditional Arab buckets, made from an entire sheep or goatskin, were too small and with the way Kuwait was developing, fewer people in the town could keep flocks. This was where new technology came in. The increase in the number of vehicles was increasing the number of worn-out tires lying around – what to do with them? Some could be hung around boats and on quay-sides to minimize the bump when coming alongside. Others could be used as buckets. It was possible to get about 3 buckets from 1 truck tire, they were strong, pretty well indestructible, waterproof and the wire in the tires stopped them flopping about and spilling. And of course, if you found an old tire lying about you could make up your buckets for free! With rope handles they were fine. So the water carrier is using water buckets made from truck tires; this was pretty standard and my parents specifically asked for this to be included in the painting.

I also include a bit that my father wrote about water in Kuwait when he arrived there, in April 1949. Later on, there were ships built to go up the Shatt al Arab, vent their ballast tanks and pick up river water for the return journey, thus making the smaller dhows redundant.

The other explanation I should give concerns about the Kuwaiti water supply. I mentioned the brackish water wells. There is no fresh water at all anywhere in the state of Kuwait. Brackish was obtained from shallow wells, close to the coastline and provided water for livestock and limited garden growth. The poorer element of the town also had to drink it; it’s not very palatable, most times when I was offered it in poorer Arab houses they added sherbet to it to make it more palatable but, really, I used to think it made it worse! In addition to about a 14% salinity it also had a quantity of magnesium salts in it: Magnesium sulfate or Epsom Salts, being the most common.

For many years fresh water was brought to Kuwait from the Shatt al Arab River, a major world river formed by the confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. As this river is tidal to well above Basrah, the collecting dhows were required to go well upstream and then, while waiting for the tide to run out, collect the water from the top, less dense, layers.

Some imported water was less good than others, it depended upon the tide, time available, weather and the temperament of the dhow skipper.

The water so imported was sold by the old gallon kerosene or gasoline tin full at 2 rupees a time. This didn’t suit the company and just before I arrived gave up on relying on the dhows.

50s to 90s Kuwait

The Burgan Blowout, Well #331- 1964

Below is another interesting story by John Beresford who used to live in Kuwait back in the 50s and 60s. This time it’s about The Burgan Blowout which I hadn’t heard about until I read his story. It’s a bit long but if you like old stuff related to Kuwait you’ll find it interesting.

I am sure that there are quite a few people reading this who were in Kuwait after the Iraqis were driven out during the first Gulf War and who experienced the nightmare of the destruction of the oilfields when the Iraqis blew up so many oil wells. I don’t know what that was like, the pollution, the burning, I don’t know if the ground trembled and if people heard a constant moan which, on getting closer, became a roar. But I did experience Burgan Well 331 and as far as I can remember, these are my memories.

The Kuwaiti was the weekly magazine for KOC employees, printed in English and Arabic. The photo on the cover states that the relief well was drilled from a point 1526 feet away from the blowout – approx. 500m. Drilling from there they had to hit a pipe that was 9” wide and hopes that they could pump drilling mud down it to block the well. From the angle of the picture, I think you just do not get any idea of how big or powerful the flame was, but then I was only about 10 ½ years old and I had never experienced anything like this so I might be exaggerating.

To try and put the flames out they needed water, so a pipeline was built, working 24/7, to bring seawater to the well site. I don’t remember if it was 48” pipe or 36”, laid across the desert with every available person and piece of equipment on the job, and it was built in about 1 week. I am sure my father said that it was a week, or just over. Everything was thrown at getting this done. It was a lot of pipes but the steel could be transported flat on trucks and ‘spun’ (spirally welded) as it was laid, which made everything easier. The bulldozers went ahead and flattened the desert and scraped a track alongside which was graded and then the machines came along to build the pipeline.

I remember that at night the horizon was bright with the light of the flame. We lived in Ahmadi at 44/14th Avenue – I don’t know how far away Burgan was, but of course, us kids had to see if we could read by the light of the flame – we could, although at that age our eyes were a lot better than they are now and maybe we could have read by moonlight anyway. And we thought we could hear something, a type of low moan.

The well fire was big, but once the process started to put it out, it became the biggest tourist attraction in the whole of Kuwait and so a plan was put into place to let the public come and see it, but in a controlled manner, so that it was safe and so that no one got in the way. So one evening we got into the car (a little Ford Anglia, same as the car Harry Potter goes flying about in) and drove off to Burgan, and we found ourselves in a bit of a convoy. With my brother and sister I was excited, my mother less so. The red horizon stirred in her memories of 14-15 November 1940, when Coventry had been bombed and the old heart of the city completely destroyed by fire. She was a student nurse in Nottingham and was fire watching that night – she was on the roof of the hospital, with buckets of sand and water and a little pump, to look out for incendiary bombs that might land there and to try and put their flames out before they really got going. If it looked bad she had to raise the alarm. It sounds dangerous but she always maintained that the most dangerous part of it was not falling off the roof! Anyway, she had had a grandstand view of the horizon towards Coventry and saw it light up and just keep on burning, and she said that the well fire reminded her of that night. The destruction was so complete that the Germans coined a new word ‘coventrieren’ meaning to completely destroy a city.

As we drove on the moan became louder and dad asked if we could feel anything; the car felt odd. In fact, the force of the gas coming up, uncontrolled, through the well piping was causing the ground to vibrate and we were starting to feel this through about 5 miles away from the burning blowout. I thought we parked 5 miles away and walked to about 3 miles distance away but now I don’t think that was so, from the silhouette of the oil rig you can tell it is not 5 miles away. I am not sure if it is the relief rig that was about 500m away from the fire as there were quite a few rigs in the area anyway. We got out of the car and it was warm. Kuwait is always going to be warm by most people’s standards, but take away the climate and how we had felt when we went out to get into the car, and now it was warm. And we could feel the vibration through our shoes, into our legs, not big movements, not lurching ones as in an earthquake, but a constant vibration which, while it did not unbalance anyone, did feel odd.

We were grouped and taken to a viewing location, which was nearer. As we got closer the vibrating grew, the sound got louder and we had to speak more loudly, almost shouting, and the temperature increased to a level that was unpleasant. Our skin facing the flames got quite warm. The power coming out of the earth was extremely impressive and it was only one well, one 9” diameter hole, blown out. How many were burning after the 1st Gulf War? All the destruction must have been a scene from hell.

We then got rounded up, counted, and led back to our cars, we got into them, drove back home and our adventure was over. We did manage to take a few photographs and I attach 2 of them. The camera was an old, fold-out, bellows camera with no telescopic lens. I think these 2 pics were taken from the car park as in the originals I can just make out some vehicles. I have another picture that is comprised of 2 photos, a top and a bottom that actually do fit together – if I could find them I would post them – but they produce an image which is about twice the size of these, so I guess they were taken from the viewing area. Basically the same image, but bigger.

At this time I was back in Kuwait with my parents because it was the Christmas holidays. At the age of 9 years old I had been sent back to the UK to go to boarding school. The logic was that as dad was going to be working overseas, and because the KOC school – the Anglo American School – only took children up to the age of 13, I would have to go to boarding school when young in order to get taught for the Common Entrance exam which I needed to pass at the age of 13 to get to Public School (the English term for a private school that took children as borders until they were 18 and had done their exams to get to university. There were just about no State-run boarding schools back then). And at the time there might have been 1 school in Kuwait Town that took children up to 18 or so but it wasn’t clear if their exams would count towards a UK university entrance so boarding school at 9 it had to be. This meant that after the holidays I had to fly back to London in order to go back to school.

So, whatever day it was that I flew back, my parents took me to the airport, which was on the site of the Kuwait International Airport is now (I think) but it was the original one in that location before any updated version was built. Parents were allowed to sit with their children in the departure lounge until the flight was called. And as we were sitting there my father said ‘John, look over there’ and sitting with some companions was Red Adair himself, the guy who had been called in to put out the well fire. He was wearing a long-sleeved cotton shirt, collar unbuttoned, his trousers were over his cowboy boots and dad said ‘Look at him, see, he’s missing part of a finger’. And I looked, and yes, there was the end of a digit missing. In fact, there seemed to be several bits missing, there were assorted small scars, burn scars, I think there was a bit of an ear missing, he moved a bit differently to most people because he kept running into flames and heat and played with explosives but he must have had a good idea what he was doing because he was still alive. Several children went up to him and asked for his autograph, which he graciously gave to them, and he chatted to them even though he had such a tough reputation as someone who could not be killed. He allegedly earned a fantastic amount of money and his contract said that any oil company that called him in had to supply the equipment he wanted and after the job, he got to keep it and the oil company would store it for him until he needed it again. But basically, for KOC, it was a form of insurance. He and his team put their lives on the line to put out fires. Thank God they did!

Interesting Fact: Red Adair was brought back to Kuwait 26 years later in 1991 after the Iraqi invasion to cap the burning oil wells.

In 1991 Adair was asked to help cap the oil fires set by Iraqi troops fleeing Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War. Although it was thought that controlling these fires would take years to accomplish, Adair’s team capped 117 wells and aided other teams in completing the job in eight months. Adair retired from firefighting in 1994. Source

Note: Scans of The Kuwaiti magazine taken by SJM Banfield (if anyone knows him let me know!)

Update: Here is a photo of the Blowout taken from the Tarek Rajab Museum archives.

50s to 90s

Old Postcards of Kuwait – 1950s

A few years ago, a reader called John Beresford who used to live in Kuwait back in the 50s sent me some photos and a writeup in life in Kuwait back then. The posts turned out to be incredibly popular and crazily enough, a bunch of people who used to be kids growing up in Ahmadi back in the 50s started reconnecting again in the comments of those posts. Yesterday John got in touch with me again since he had found and scanned some old postcards of his dating from that era. He shared them with me along with some comments on each. As with the previous posts, John shares a lot of interesting insights and tidbits to life in Kuwait back in the 50s so please make sure you read his comments under the postcards.


A couple of years ago I sent you some memories of life in Ahmadi in the 1950s.

I have found some old postcards, a couple are 1960’s, the rest must be the early 50s, maybe the 1940s. I am unsure when the British Residency became the British embassy or when the Naif Gate disappeared, but if you find out it might give a guide to dating them.

Jashanmal Kuwait City
Jashanmals have been around forever in the Gulf. We used the one in Ahmadi which like most other shops was moved to a new shopping center built in the early 1960s. I don’t remember the part of Ahmadi this was in, but I still remember the road system and I can even mentally drive there after more than 50 years! I recall the Indian manageress telling my mother that the inflatable globes she had ordered for the shop were useless as customs had cut the map of Israel out of each one!

British Agency, Kuwait Town
I am unsure when this was taken. I suspect Sir Percy Cox was still around, he was at the time of the Abadan Crisis -1952 I think- my mother was a nurse in MIS and got thrown out with everyone else when the AIOC (Anglo Iranian Oil Co) was nationalized, and was allowed 66lbs baggage allowance to go home to UK. She then signed up to join KOC working at the Nissen hut hospital at Magwa, between Ahmadi and what became the new airport.

Mina Al Ahmedi, South Jetty
This is a view towards the industrial area, with Ahmadi 5 miles in the distance, up the ridge that allowed the oil to flow under gravity down towards the refinery and the jetty. As the spherical LPG tanks are in the picture this is mid-1960’s. On the shore, just out of the pic on the left, is where the Boat Club (Small Boat Owners’ Association) and the yacht Club (Cumberland Yacht Club) were. Their little beaches were gradually surrounded by the KOC Industrial Area. The shoreline on the right wanders up towards Faaheel. The green building suspended over the sea was a facility for ships crew, there was a cafe, games room, basic shopping facilities and a barber which for a time my father used to take me to – he had a pass for the jetty. If a crewman was ill he could be moved up to the KOC hospital, The Southwell Hospital in Ahmadi. The little triangle of water in the foreground is where a whale, unfortunately, became trapped. It swam unexpectedly, perhaps following a tanker, and could not find a way out. Attempts to assist it proved futile and sadly it eventually died. I remember that people were allowed to come and see it when it was still swimming and surfacing, as no-one had seen a whale before. But what type it was, or what size, I don’t remember.

Oil Rig
Once these had been set up they were able to be moved (skidded) on tracks, towed by a team of bulldozers in harness. The desert was firm and basically flat and there wasn’t really anything in the way, so they were towed to where they were next needed. The pipes that took the oil away to the gathering centres, where it received an initial processing that involved getting rid of a lot of the gas (there was no market for LPG at the time) were drape over the desert and where a road had to go, the pipes were dug into trenches and the service road put over it. The service roads are graded desert that had crude oil sprayed on it and then the surface was rolled, with more oil added, and more rolling. They were the smoothest roads I have ever driven on, very quiet. They might have needed some repair after heavy rain, but usually only if they had been underwater since the oiled surface repelled light showers. With very heavy traffic (e.g. trailers with large pipes) the surface could become damaged with furrows where the trailer wheels had made a groove, and if you were in a car and a wheel caught it then it could get exciting, but as you were in the middle of nowhere it wasn’t as though you could hit anything. And if something did go wrong, you always had a supply of water with you, and someone knew you were on that route, and someone was expecting you.

I don’t have any comments for these. I guess they are early 1950s but I don’t know enough about American cars to make a judgment, and anyway, cars from that era seem to last forever. I guess nowadays most people have Japanese/Far Eastern cars but I remember a family trip by car from Ahmadi to Kuwait Town and back in about 1968/1969 and we decided to count the number of Volkswagen Beetles we saw; we nearly reached 900! They were so popular for a time, they were the basic car of choice for those who were not rich. Then after a while, they just disappeared.

50s to 90s Kuwait Photography

Life in Kuwait back in the 1950s – Part 2

Life in Kuwait back in the 1950s is a series of posts on simple things from life back then that many people might have forgotten or not even have known about.
If you missed the first part click [Here].

This is
Life in Kuwait back in the 1950s – Part 2
by John Beresford



Kuwait Rugby Football Club – the first ‘Oval Ball’
My father, Paul Beresford, is doing the crowning. Photo probably taken 1949-1952. As the club house was a large nissen hut, it was held elsewhere – probably in the guest house as the Hubara Club was not built at this time. The club colours were black and amber hoops with black shorts ( alternate strip was red and white hoops with white shorts, if you had them). Note the set of rugby goal posts framing the crowning.


Old Diving Board, Fintas, 1953
Fintas was a few huts and really just an area rather than a settlement. It was north of Fahaheel. From google maps it is now completely built up. Later on KOC fenced off a Families Beach just south of the North Pier. There were also beaches at the SBOA – Small Boat Owners’ Association and the CYC – Cumberland Yacht Club, just south of the South Pier and north of the Shaiba complex, that always smelled of sulphur. These were within the perimeter of the Mina Al Ahmadi complex.


Ahmadi, 1959
Me rolling around some of the Swedish prefabricated houses. The caption on the back says ‘John rolling round the Swedish houses’. I might have been driving it slowly. After all, it is a small roller, it wouldn’t go very fast, and there is nothing round to be hit so I might have been driving it. I don’t remember.

There are no eucalyptus trees in the photo. These were planted along every road with a hollow around the base of the trunk and the earth scooped into a circular wall around it. A lot of houses had tamarisk trees planted along the perimeter to lessen the wind and to give some shade. A lot of the roads around Ahmadi had pavements – hardly anyone walked along them as it was too hot. I remember once where the temperature got to 178 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun – 81.2 degrees c. the swimming pool in the Hubara Club was measured at about 108 degrees f (42 degrees c). I got out at 105 – no-one was swimming, we were all floating around like jellyfish. The water was above blood temperature and just warmed you up and we all became so lethargic. Since then I have wondered why a hot bath does not seem to have the same effect.

Yet I also remember once at the KOC Anglo American School, which only took children up to the age of 13 – there was a very limited choice of schooling in Kuwait at the time and KOC gave parents a grant to send children to boarding school back in the UK – all of us kids were grouped in the playground around a tap that had been dripping, and a large icicle had formed – it was the first we had seen. I caught the bus at 07:10 to go to school and we came home for lunch at 11:30. Dad arrived, and went back to work at about 12:15, and would be back at home at 16:30. At about 12:15 I got the bus back to school and was back at home at 15:30. In the middle of the morning we had break, and there would be a metal container of hot cocoa for us to drink, every day, whether it was summer or winter. It was piping hot and we were given enamel cups to drink from. These got too hot to use so the first children used to take 2 cups and pour the cocoa from one cup to the other in order to cool it down, which meant that half of the children got no cocoa at all. It was so hot – if you drank it immediately it did burn your lips. Of course, whether you really want a cup of hot cocoa in summer in Kuwait is a moot point. It was probably something about being British.


Paul with old Ford V-8 pick up #899, 1954
The seat looks to be really low relative to the window as Dad was about 5’10”. Looks like it would have made a fun little hot-rod.


End of part 2

50s to 90s Information Kuwait

Life in Kuwait back in the 1950s – Part 1

Back in May while doing some research about Kuwait in the old days I contacted a person by the name of John Beresford and asked him if he had any old photographs or videos of Kuwait from back in the old days. Turns out he didn’t have any videos but he did have some photos and more importantly, a treasure of information, mostly stories of simple things from life back then that many people might have forgotten or not even have known about. I’ve been trying to figure out how to share this trove of fascinating info for the past week and just decided I would share it in parts.

This is
Life in Kuwait back in the 1950s – Part 1
by John Beresford


Ahmadi was built from scratch, power, drains, everything. My father arrived in April 1949 – he missed the last flying boat service by a week which always disappointed him – he fancied the flight from Beirut via the Iraqi Marshes to Shuwaik. One of the people he arrived with got up, walked to the door, looked out and went back to sit down – he did not get off the plane. Dad did and spent 2 weeks in a tent before graduating to a nissen hut, which was far too hot – with limited power there was no overhead fan. He shared with some fairly coarse drillers from Oklahoma who kept a pistol which was passed around in turn to everyone. It was the job of the person with the pistol to go outside at night and shoot any braying donkeys that were keeping people awake. The only thing he kept from the experience was a taste for iced tea and a distaste for drillers.

My parents got married in 1954. Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) gave them a married quarter and equipped it. Furniture, linen, plates, cutlery, aluminium saucepans, were supplied. I still use the cutlery – EPNS from Mappin and Webb, and some for the saucepans and chip pans. They are stamped with ‘KUOCO’. The crockery had a green band around the edge – I don’t remember who made it. You supplied your own curtains, carpets and bedding. There was nowhere to buy such things so KOC had a commissariat and issued such items. Later on, in the 1960’s, it decided to stop doing this and let everyone keep what they had already received. There was a laundry in the industrial area, North of the South tank farm, where items could be laundered, dry cleaned and starched if necessary. I threw away an old KOC laundry box this summer- it had been used to store tools in the garage. The system was pretty much the same as the army used, and most people employees had been in the forces. They had been posted overseas and had little desire to return to the UK as it was cold, depressed and depressing. Quite a few had been in the British Palestine Police and after 1948 moved elsewhere. There was quite a mix of people around; Dad liked playing rugby in Basrah because there were lots of nightclubs and shows populated by white Russian dancers who could not go back home.


In the picture of the front room note:

– The gas fire – every KOC European/US house had a gas fire , and we used it!

– There is an electrical fan on the floor. I don’t know if this means there was no air-conditioning yet. Overhead fans did exist. The air-conditioning was not as nowadays, with individual units to each room. KOC had a central Ice Plant, that produced ice (obvious from the name) and a lot of cold water. This was piped around the European part of Ahmadi (the management/supervisory accommodation) because managers and supervisors tended to be European, and had higher spec accommodation. The Indians and Pakistanis (IPs) had their area and type of houses, and the Arabs had theirs. Arab managers had management houses. The original drains were made of cast iron and the manager in charge of the domestic infrastructure got bored and did a survey to see haw the drains stood up to use. His conclusion was that the drains in the IP areas corroded more quickly that in the Arab areas, and the Europeans’ drains corroded least of all. He attributed this to the diet.

However, reverting to the a/c, the insulated pipes carried the chilled water to the main a/c unit in every house, and from there cooled air was pumped around the houses. It was an efficient way of supplying a/c. The houses had large ducts made of asbestos sheet that cooled most rooms. I don’t know of anyone that has blamed any subsequent cancer on having had their a/c ducts made of it. Of course when my father had been doing some plumbing and had failed to complete it before the ice plant started to pump its cool water around town he had to phone up and tell them to stop the pump until he was all watertight again! As he was by this time in charge of Ahmadi’s services as well as the oil company’s electrics he could get away with a lot.

– The standard lamp is the one issued by KOC. The entire front room looks shockingly similar to the 1950s room in the Geffrye Museum – a small museum in London, North of Liverpool Street Station, that displays the British domestic front room throughout the centuries. So many people had rooms like the one in the museum. Especially the textiles.


The photo above shows the house after my parents had moved in. There is no garden. It was easier to get the fence and other bits from KOC and build your own. Dad bought concrete flagstones and brought them home 2-3 at a time. In the distance another house is being built. This is up in the Ridge area of Ahmadi. Our house backed onto desert (from the photo at this time it seems to have fronted onto desert as well) and at the back were well heads from the Ahmadi field. In 1956 someone took exception to the Suez Crisis and blew one of them up. This really annoyed my mother. I had 24 terry nappies that were reusable and most of them had been boiled and were hanging on the line when the explosion happed. The fire that resulted covered them all in oily soot and Mum never managed to get them white again. The clean up afterwards she never forgot. Things had to be cleaned. If she had thrown them away there were no more to be obtained. This ridge area was covered in houses when we left in 1972. Houses were every 30-40 yards or less. As it started to drop down the long incline to the sea the slope arrived at the Hubara Club, and the golf course, neither of which had been built when this photo was taken.

Some houses were called PMQs others were called Swedes because they were wooden houses, prefabricated and shipped in from Sweden. Ours was made of Basrah brick which is quite soft. Generally the Americans had bigger houses and earned more money because they were Americans. It was said that everything cost more in the USA. If it did then, it certainly does not nowadays. Everyone had their grade of housing – very much like the armed forces. Bachelors had their accommodation in the guest house where we sometime went on fridays to have a curry. Only rarely, but we enjoyed it greatly. Again, the ‘Bachelors’ Mess’ was modelled on the armed forces.

One way or another you could get most things from KOC. After prohibition came in he and one of his staff, who had worked in a distillery, had the fitters in the electrical division make a still, a proper one, with thermostats, electrical heating, a cooled column for fractionalisation with about 800 marbles in it to increase the surface area for condensation, and the distillate was filtered through charcoal. They then distilled it a 2nd time for purity and then converted it into whatever tipple they wanted, usually gin and brandy. A mail order shop in New York sold food colouring and ingredients especially designed for home-made hooch. The cook made the caramel for the brandy (Dad liked the treacly taste of the Cypriot Keo brandy) and to add flavour he threw a handful of white oak chips into each bottle to simulate aging in a cask. Once his shipment got stopped by Kuwaiti customs and he had to explain what it was for to get release; he said that the white oak chips were for smoking fish, and took along an article explain how kippers were made to help. After much scepticism the shipment was released.

I mentioned a cook. KOC gave managerial staff an allowance to be spent on a servant. The choice was an ayah or a cook. We had a cook. He was a fantastic cook. He was a Pakistani and before partition had been a demonstration chef at the Indian Army School of Cookery. He could cook anything well and knew all western culinary techniques, and if he had forgotten he said so, and asked for a Larousse or some such to refresh his memory. He must have been quite old as he remembered being caught in the great Quetta earthquake and that was in the 1920s.


End of Part 1